BEGINNING TO TEACH
In that summer of 1929, normal school graduation was near the beginning of June, and school began in Glen Curren on July 10! Lillian went home to Radville for a three day meeting and left for Glen Curren, six miles south of Minton, the next day. The days of trying to find things to do during the summer were pretty much over for Lillian! The Glen Curren school year was from July to Christmas, and then February to the end of June. The hope was that they wouldn't miss as many school days because of winter storms.
Lillian's salary that first year was one thousand dollars, and she was quite pleased with it. The Board and the community were very co- operative and she boarded with the Graham family, Louella and Clarence. They lived in a three room house about one and a quarter miles from the school. They curtained the bedroom in half, to give her a little privacy. The Grahams were very good to her. They had no children, but their small niece, Marian Jacobs (Goud), who lived with them, amused Lillian by calling her teechee.
There were only three days of school that first week, which was a good thing, because she was absolutely exhausted by that time. The school was a discarded school barn that had been renovated, cleaned, and newly painted, white inside and red outside. She started the year with thirteen students and ended with twenty-five. Five of those students were Jacobs children - Gilbert, Mickel, Louise, Allen and Floyd. Gilbert was the janitor, and because of his industriousness she never had to light fires, as many other teachers did.
She taught all subjects to all grades and suspects that science was neglected, because it was never one of her own favourites. After school she prepared her lessons and filled the blackboards with assignments. She thoroughly enjoyed that hour and a half she had to herself after school, preparing for the next day. When she was done, she would happily walk home to read and study.
She was very busy indeed, because some of the subjects she had to teach, she hadn't taken herself. History, health, science and geo- graphy all demanded some intensive study on her part. But she still found some time to do a little recreational reading, and became quite absorbed in Ben Hur that year.
She had no car, so there was very little for her to do in the spare time she did have, other than to read, write letters, and go to church. Although the Jacobs family tried to persuade her to use skis in the winter, she preferred to walk. She did give skiing a try, but decided it wasn't for her. She didn't feel very competent at any sports then, although she did learn to enjoy some a few years later.
She got home only once in a very long while, but it wasn't her nature to get lonely. She liked to be with people but she also enjoyed solitude at times. She did miss her friends though, and was absolutely delighted when Wilfred, Clarice and Lavine turned up the first Sunday she was there.
Her friendship with a black family, Mr. and Mrs. Bill Leonard, enriched her life greatly that year. They lived about a quarter of a mile from Graham's house and Lillian stopped there often, partly because she was such a good cook, but also because he, the best educated man in the district, had an extensive library. Needless to say, she read many of his books during her year in Glen Curren. She also enjoyed lively discussions with him about books and world affairs.
She still remembers Mrs. Leonard saying one time, "I could have married a white man once, but I was too proud." That statement made quite an impact on her. She had never consciously thought the white man was superior, but she'd never realized that black people had racial pride too. It dawned on her that she had assumed they wished they were white, which, she clearly saw, was at least a subconscious notion that the white race was superior.
On her birthday weekend in October that year, she got to go home, and on the Sunday she went to her uncle's who was to take her back to Glen Curren. It was a beautiful Indian summer day, and she had a wonderful time playing games outside with her cousins. On the way to Glen Curren, a fierce storm blew up, and they were stuck in Blooming until Tuesday. She was quite anxious about missing two days of school, but when she got there she discovered that the storm had been so bad no one had come to school anyway.
To this day Lillian considers herself to be a very ordinary teacher in spite of the many who have said that she was the best teacher they ever had. That first year she realized, as she had suspected during her practice teaching, that she was a lot better at teaching the older students, and that even though she was a green eighteen year old, she had very little difficulty with discipline. The strap was used quite commonly then and while she did use it a few times, she realized over the years, that corporal punishment was seldom the right solution. She also suspects children were easier to manage then because there were far fewer distractions than there are today
~There were few young people of her age in the district. She associated mostly with a few of her older girl students and the Jacobs boys. She remembers well the Jacobs boys trying to teach her to skate! She was scared stiff, but allowed three of them to hold on to her to keep her upright, all of them laughing hilariously. She did some more skating when she taught in Wawota, but never did really master the skill.
She and Raymond Jacobs became good friends. They were not at all romantically interested in each other but did enjoy walking and talking and joking with each other. They made a facetious agreement one day, that if neither of them was married by the time they were thirty, they would marry each other. Sadly, Raymond died a few years later, and Lillian lost a good friend.
Manley Jacobs was not in school any longer, but one day he decided he would give the teacher, as well as his little sister Louise a ride to school. He was going hunting after he dropped them off, and he had a toboggan hitched to two broncos that he was breaking. She sat on a little loose box on the toboggan, and the horses galloped as hard as they could go. "It was certainly an exhilarating ride, she said, but I was not particularly anxious to have another toboggan ride with Manley's broncos."
The Christmas concert that year was also a memorable event. She had somewhat of a problem getting started because she had been taught that she shouldn't celebrate Christ's birthday. Now, she's glad that at least once a year some attention is paid to Christ. She regrets that Christmas is so commercialized, but thinks it's good that children in school hear at least something about his birth and life. She regrets that back then, because of her beliefs, she didn't take the opportunity to introduce Jesus to the children.
She also didn't like the Santa Claus idea, as you'll recall, so she finally settled for all secular themes for the plays. They did sing some Christmas carols, as well as other songs and drills. She went at it with great intensity, practicing at noon and recesses, and then during the last month, from the afternoon recess on.
The day of the concert she didn't go home after school, but went to a nearby neighbour's, so she could go back to the school early to make sure everything was ready for the show to begin. It started to storm, and as she was walking to the school in that howling wind and swirling snow she wondered if the students were going to get there.
A lot of the community people came, but the time came to begin the program and the Barker children hadn't arrived yet. This was pretty close to being a disaster because one of them had a major part in a play. Finally at 9:00 o'clock they started the program. She asked Mickel Jacobs to take that part, and he did very well. She didn't get home until 1:00 a.m., but her head was so full of the program and its changes and the big storm she didn't sleep all night. She was glad to go home the next day for the winter break until the end of January.
That first year that Lillian taught is the first Christmas little Clarice remembers because Lillian gave her an Eaton's Beauty doll (the most coveted of the day) and a little gold locket. She treasured both and it broke her heart when the doll got broken. To Lillian, it was reminiscent of her own loss when she was just a little girl.
Her trips away from Glen Curren were few and far between that year and so her trip to Punnichy at Easter was a red letter weekend. Wilfred was to marry Pearl Perry that summer and Pearl had asked Lillian to be her bridesmaid. Pearl was going home to make wedding plans and asked Lillian to come with her. She arrived back in Glen Curren at 4:00 a.m. Monday, and had to teach all day. As she says, "When you're nineteen you can do things like that".
The school superintendent visited her during that first year and, according to her, he wasn't particularly impressed with her. His report wasn't negative but it wasn't particularly positive either. He described her as "hesitant in speech and not well enough organized".
She left after that first year, not because she was in any way dissatisfied nor because they were dissatisfied with her, but because she wanted new experiences. She loved the children and the community and was, as she says, "happy as a lark", but there was a restlessness that stirred in her and led her on to new places and new things. The moving from school to school left her when she made the move to Radville Christian College, but she never lost her love of new experiences, especially of travel.
Pearl Perry suggested that maybe Lillian could get a school in the Wawota area, so she applied at Model School, the home school for the Husband family. She got the position, and left Glen Curren at the end of June feeling sad but excited. In addition to the Jacobs' she kept in touch with some of her students, the Boyd girls, for a number of years.
She spent the summer at home in Lake Alma and during that time went to Wawota for Pearl and Wilfred's wedding. It was, she thought "the event of the summer of '30". Hulda made her a lovely coral crepe de chine dress. It was a three-quarter length, had a large cape collar; it was quite the most beautiful dress she'd ever owned. She's always regretted she didn't keep it.
She also spent a week that summer in Manson with her good friend Ethel Rogers. They had been baptized together in 1926 and during the intervening four years there had been a myriad of letters pass between them. That summer they went to the Brandon Fair, and although they considered themselves proper grown-up young ladies, they rode the merry-go-round and other rides usually enjoyed by children. In fact, much of what was usually thought of as teenage life she enjoyed during the early years of her teaching. She loved spending time with Ethel, but once Ethel married they didn't see each other as often.
In mid-August she began teaching at Model School, about eight miles west of Wawota. She stayed there for three years and boarded with the Walter Husband family that whole time. Ruth Nelson (Grasley) remembers the Jacobson family being at worship service at Husbands the day before school started. She was not introduced formally to Lillian that day, but she vividly recalls the events of the next day, the first day of school!
The beginning of her relationship with Lillian was not too auspicious; she was late! But, it was good to be back at school and see all of her friends, so she was soon talking to her girl friend in sign language. Lillian turned from the blackboard and gave her that Miss T. look! She immediately got to work. She recently told me:
I remember Lillian as a teacher who exercised discipline without resorting to the strap and soon won the respect of her students. The name of our school was Model, but we weren't exactly model students, some of us having been strapped numerous times previously, with little improvement in our behaviour. She influenced all who knew her to be better students and better people.
Another Wawota student, Gerald McPherson, remembers Lillian with great affection. He recently told Doris Husband
She was the best teacher I ever had. I usually had to work at harvesting for a time after school started in the fall, so I was always behind. I heard we had a new teacher, a Miss Torkelson; I was scared stiff of her. I slipped into the classroom and headed for a back seat. Miss Torkelson, however, wanted me at the front! She was different from any other teacher, really caring. She understood me and helped me get caught up. I liked her so well I'd often help her with the heavy work after school.
Frances Black was working at the Husbands at that time and the young people had a wonderful time together. Evenings were spent enjoying games, playing pranks on each other, and often, singing around the organ. Bert Husband remembers her as a cheerful, witty, fun loving young woman who loved a good joke. He said, "She could usually beat me at checkers; but I could hold my own or beat her when we played croquinole." He continued, "In addition to her above average social, intellectual and scholastic attributes, I thought she was the most beautiful young woman in the world."
~Lillian always walked and her red felt hat was a familiar sight on the horizon as she made her way to school. She was determined that frigid temperatures would not deter her, but one day it was so bitterly cold someone said to her, "Surely you're not going to school today, are you? No children will be there!" It was -52 degrees, but she was still determined to go until a phone call confirmed that, sure enough, there would be no school that day!
The school room itself, was extremely cold at times and while the girls often wore slacks when it was so cold, she wouldn't, and, indeed, tried to discourage the girls from doing so. She did eventually soften and buy some ski pants. In retrospect, she suspects that those girls were wiser than she was and that one of the reasons she has arthritis in her knees now is because she was so adamant about not wearing slacks then!
She liked Wawota, both the community and the school. This was a much older, more settled community than she was used to. Since the school districts were numbered as they were started, Model School District No. 931 was obviously much older than School District No. 3257, Glen Curren. This school had a library, which, of course, delighted her. Some of the books were considerably outdated, but there was a relatively new set of Books of Knowledge that she used extensively, especially for art and art appreciation.
Enrollment varied from fourteen to sixteen students, including some who were taking their high school by correspondence. Her involvement with those students was primarily helping them study, as well as grading their work. Two of these were Bert Husband and Ruth Nelson. Bert, who went on to become a doctor, believes she was instrumental in his success. He particularly appreciates that she taught him the inestimable value of reading carefully and of organizing his time.
The custom for starting the school day was to line up, salute the flag and sing God Save The King, O Canada and a hymn. George Husband, who was just a little fellow, came late one day, and she was quite provoked as she saw him approaching on horseback during opening exercises. But as he got to the school and off his horse, he handed her a beautiful big bouquet of Saskatchewan lilies. He had stopped and picked them for her on his way to school. Of course the scolding she was ready to give him evaporated into thin air!
The students were very friendly and they often invited her to join them in ball games, skating and other activities. One winter day she went with a sleigh full of young people to a community play ten miles away. After the play there was a dance, and since she didn't dance she sat and wrote letters. Some people thought she was a reporter, writing an account of the event for the newspaper. The young men in her party were so polite that they took turns, sitting out one dance each with her.
There was much going on in the Model district that she thoroughly enjoyed. There were concerts in a number of the surrounding communities that she often attended with the Husbands. She really appreciated those opportunities; it was at one of those concerts that she heard for the first time the grand song My Task. She attended many 4-H activities with the Husbands, as well as both acting in and directing drama productions.
She enjoyed more of a social life than she'd had before. She joined the young people of the district in skating on the ponds; she skated even when her ankles hurt, just to enjoy the fellowship. As she said, "I never could skate alone but there was always someone to hold me up." She loved it that there were young people her age who did many things together, and who especially loved playing tricks on each other. She even had a crush on a young man while she was there, although of course, he never knew it.
Social standards were certainly different then. One time while she was visiting in the area, a young man offered her a cigarette. She was completely shocked and insulted because she thought that men would only offer cigarettes to the most immoral of women. A friend reassured her that he was just being polite, but the shock remained. Certainly that's not the mores of today's society, and it saddens her to see so many women smoking, because of the effect on their children.
There were some well educated people in Wawota, and some even had large personal libraries, which was rather impressive for the time. It was an attractive district, with many lovely old trees, quite a contrast to the southern plains where she'd spent her early years. These were depression years, but it wasn't anywhere near as bad in Wawota as it was in Lake Alma where the drought was scorching everything. There were always green trees, flowers and decent crops in Wawota and she was shocked and dismayed when she went home to Lake Alma in June where everything was dry and absolutely barren. Nothing was growing! No crops, no gardens - absolutely nothing!
That's not to say, of course, that the depression was not real in Wawota too. Everybody was affected by the depression in some way. For example Lillian's salary the first year was a thousand dollars and the second year it was reduced to seven hundred dollars.
She even got to spend some quality time with her younger sister Eleanora while she was teaching at Model School. Eleanora, who was four years younger than she, became so ill that she was supposed to stay out of school for a year. Lillian hated the thought of her missing so much school and thought that she could help her. She took her back to Husbands with her, tutored her as she recovered, and by February she was well enough to back home to school.
Church services, held in the Husband home, were a great pleasure for Lillian. Everything was more formal then, and one of the expressions of that formality was that everyone dressed in their Sunday best for church. After morning service, the men would change into their work clothes to go out and do the chores and then change back into their suits, shirts and ties for a small evening devotional service. They believed that one way of honouring God was to be in as good a form of dress as possible.
Lillian remembers those times with fondness and is sometimes bothered by the casual attitude people often have towards such things. She says, "We wouldn't dress like that if we were going to see the queen or someone of high political stature". While she's very aware that God doesn't judge us by our clothes, she believes that this too is a form of respect towards God, and that it's significant for our own sakes to present our very best to Him.
~When she went to Wawota, she intended to stay only one year, as she had at Glen Curren. She had diligently saved her money to fulfill another of her dreams, going to Harding College in Arkansas, to study Bible for a year. However, when she went home to Lake Alma for the Easter break and told her folks - Dad, who seldom tried to influence her, questioned the wisdom of her plan. He wondered if, because of the depression, she would have trouble finding another school when she returned. She realized that there would indeed be more teachers than schools and, deeply disappointed, she put her dream on the shelf - but not for long!
Frances Black was in Lake Alma with her during that holiday and one day as they were walking in the hills bemoaning the facts she said, "I wonder why we can't have a summer Bible school where young people can get together to study the Bible for two or three weeks at a time?" Excitedly, the two of them quickly took the train to Minton to discuss it with Wilfred and Pearl Orr and the dream immediately took wings!
J.C. Bailey recalls her deep disappointment about not being able to go to a Christian college in the United States. He says, "From her earliest days as a teacher, she had a vision. The fact that she didn't get to go south to school turned out to be a blessing for the whole church. If she couldn't go to school, we would have a school. The summer Bible schools were the beginning of that dream and the foundation of all the Christian school work in this country."
~Lillian returned to Model School for a second, and indeed a third year. During that second year she planned to take a trip during her Christmas vacation to the big city of Winnipeg. She stayed with the Beamish family and her appetite for travel was further fuelled. While she was in Winnipeg, she also met D.H. Perkins, a young preacher from the United States and invited him to come and teach at the next summer Bible school.
~While she was at Model School, she could get home to Lake Alma by taking the train to Radville and then finding her way to Lake Alma. One time she did that, got to Radville and decided to stop and visit her friend, Mabel Hoff (Davies) who was keeping house for her father and brothers in Radville. The next morning she offered to help Mabel, who allowed her to make some cheese biscuits. Lillian, who admittedly didn't know too much about cooking, noticed the recipe called for salt, but the amount was pretty much illegible.
She finally decided it said six teaspoons and since she was doubling the recipe, that meant twelve teaspoons. She says, "I was so stupid I didn't realize that was completely out of line." When she dumped the tenth teaspoon in she figured that had to be enough! Sure enough, when those biscuits came out of the oven, they looked delicious. But when the men who were assembled at the table took their first bites, the biscuits were so salty the men simply couldn't eat them!
She felt badly about them being wasted, so she took them home with her to Lake Alma, with another practical joke developing in her head! Sunday afternoon there was quite a group of young people gathered at the Jacobson home, including the Jelsing girls, D.H. Perkins, Lavina Husband, Mary Curtiss, Cecil Bailey, and others. They were having a merry time sitting around the table when Lillian put this stack of nice looking biscuits in the middle of the table. They were passed around; Lavina Husband took one, bit it, and then politely set it down with no comment or facial expression. Several others did pretty much the same thing, until finally, Cecil picked one up, took a bite and said, "Oh these aren't nearly salty enough; please pass the salt." Lillian burst out laughing and soon everyone was laughing and teasing her about her prowess as a cook.
She left Model School in June of 1933 for the same reason she left Glen Curren, the desire for a change - new places, new things. She was weary of teaching at that point, something that never happened to her again, and so she didn't take another school. Her recommendation by the school board when she left showed that her skills as a teacher had improved greatly since her first year of teaching. He said:
She is a born teacher and any board of trustees fortunate enough to secure her services will make no mistake. Miss Torkelson has been in charge of our school for three years and during that time has steadily grown in public esteem. If she has a fault, and who can regard it as a fault, it is that in her zeal to excel as a teacher, she may overtax her strength. She passes hour after hour in the schoolhouse after school is dismissed for the day, that she may have leisure to review the days' work and get ready for the work that lies ahead. Every day testifies to the thoroughness with which her work is done.
OGEMA WINTER BIBLE SCHOOL
She decided that rather than teach that year, she would go to Bible school. J.C. Bailey had directed a three month winter Bible school in Ogema the winter before, and it had been so successful he had decided to expand it to four months in 1933. School started on November 1, and J.C. asked Lillian to teach some secular subjects, so in addition to taking the full Bible course, she had four students taking classes in Grades Eight, Ten and Eleven and she taught English to all forty Bible students.
As always, she got totally involved, directing plays for Saturday night programs as well as taking part in public speaking and debating. Her days were very long and her nights short as she drove herself to stay abreast the other Bible students, especially the big five, while teaching the high school subjects as well. In addition to all that, she was staying in the dormitory and was not able to find the privacy she needed. The stress increased until one day she lost control and screamed at someone; she had worked herself into a state of complete exhaustion. She realized she had to have a break so she left Ogema and went home to Lake Alma.
She learned some valuable things about herself that winter. Probably the most important thing she learned was that there were limits to what she could do and that she wasn't as clever as she had thought she was! She also learned that she needed more privacy, that she could take all kinds of activity during the day, but that at night she needed some quiet time to herself. That whole experience was a great embarrassment to her, but it did help her to learn to pace herself better. She knows when she is getting too busy and is able to call a time out.
At the end of January 1934, she accepted a position at Lein School, south of Radville, and was glad to be back in the classroom. It was a quiet situation with only fifteen students, exactly what she needed at that time. She was so worn out that for a whole month she went to bed at 8:00 p.m. and got up twelve hours later!
This was the depth of the drought and there were so many dust storms there were drifts high up on the schoolyard fences. Grasshoppers were so bad that if you looked at the sky in the middle of the day you couldn't see the sun; Eleanora even found one in her salad one day at summer Bible school. Lillian tried to disregard them as they went squish, squish under her feet as she walked back and forth to school. She chose instead, to think about either a lesson she was to teach that day, or better still, some fantastic trip she'd like to take some time!
There were many other evidences of the depression as well, everyone was poor and many of the children didn't have enough to eat. One little girl particularly caught at her heart and she took her with her on one of her customary weekend trips home to Lake Alma, to feed her and give her a little special attention.
Generally people didn't complain about the hard times; they just did what they had to do to survive. Many farmers took their cattle north in the winter and returned south in the spring to plant another crop, hoping that this year there would be rain. Others simply pulled up stakes and left; once their well went dry there was little else they could do.
The depression was not quite so severe in Ontario and train carloads of food, primarily fish and apples, arrived on the prairies. When she was in Robsart a few years later, a school in Ontario adopted her school and sent not only food but also clothing and other things. In all, the drought lasted almost ten years.
Walking continued to be one of her customary activities. She usually left as soon as school was out Friday afternoon and it took her about four hours to walk home to Lake Alma. Sometimes she yearned for a lift, but she usually managed to convince herself that it was good for her and a wonderful experience. Occasionally she got a ride back but usually she walked all twenty-six miles.
She'll never forget one of those rides she got back to Lein School! It was a very dusty, windy day and like many other Sundays, a group of young people were gathered at the Jacobson home. Cecil Bailey, Signe Jelsing and Mary Curtiss were all there and as the girls were preparing for the long walk back to their schools Cecil said, "I'll drive all three of you back to your schools. You can't possibly walk back facing that wind." And what a prophetic statement that turned out to be!
They started out but before long the car got stuck in the loose dust on the road. It was common during the drought years for the roads to fill in with dust or snow, depending on the season. The soil literally blew away and piled up, making the roadways lower than the fields. The girls got out and pushed the car through the dust. The wind was so strong it took their breath away. When they got back in the car they were so covered in dust that they exploded in laughter as they looked at each other's black faces. But they also realized that they probably would not have survived had they walked. They had a new respect for the power of the southern Saskatchewan dust storms of the dirty thirties.
Lillian remembers another ride home that year too! It was winter, and Lillian had been visiting at the Jelsings in Blooming for the weekend. Her intent was to walk home Sunday afternoon. But it was beginning to storm and she was starting to be a little concerned about getting back in time for school Monday morning. So Cecil said, "Don't worry. Wilfred and I will take you back in the morning."
They started out the next morning but when they discovered that the roads were plugged with snow, Cecil and Wilfred decided to set off cross country. They did fine until they came to a slough they thought was frozen over and the back wheels fell through the thin ice! (Because Lillian and her friends were so fond of playing practical jokes on each other [remember the letter?], she believed for a very long time that this was another practical joke. In fact, in spite of their denials, Cecil isn't sure she's completely convinced yet!)
A very determined Lillian set off walking over the hills. She knew she was surely going to be very late because she still had five miles to go and only a half hour in which to do it. Amazingly, when she arrived at school some time after 10:30 that morning, the children were quietly working at their desks! What else would you expect from Lillian Torkelson's students?
Lein School was Lillian's last experience with elementary school. The next fall, she moved into teaching high school, not only her first love but also what she had always known was her greater area of expertise. But before we get to that, let's look back to the fulfillment of her longing for a Bible school.
Published in The Old Paths Archive